Ambient, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, Indie Rock, Krautrock, Minimalism, New Music, Post-Rock, Rock, Space Pop
By Kenneth Preski
Kranky is the most high-profile, under the radar record label that calls Chicago home. For the past twenty years, founder Joel Leoschke has fostered a stable of uncompromising, unpretentious artists whose work may have gone unreleased were it not for his uncanny knack for curation. The thread drawing together outfits as disparate as Deerhunter and Stars of the Lid has united musicians worldwide under one umbrella: part ambient, part electronic, part black earth rock ‘n’ roll. And “Black Earth” might be the best description available for the abstract sound Leoschke is after. As the title of local quartet Implodes’ full-length debut suggests, there’s an engrossing mysticism at work in much of the Kranky repertoire. The solo recordings of Implodes’ guitarist Ken Camden echoes this boundless energy, but even he is quick to acknowledge the fleeting nature of his alchemy, and his hesitancy to share it.
“I’ve always been making recordings at home and stuff, but I’m kinda bashful and wasn’t about to slip [Leoschke] a tape or anything.”
Cajoling artists of this ilk is an elusive art form, something Leoschke has perfected. Somehow he’s managed to cater to the cagey, artists wise enough to avoid making a deal when they needn’t, musicians hungry for harmony on a cosmic scale rather than the fleeting fame offered by superficial scenesters. Art of this kind often has a unique origin story. Read the rest of this entry »
On the heels of their fifth full album, the Brooklyn shoegaze outfit bring their dreamy take on pop hooks over sonic jetwash to the Empty Bottle. “Flourescence,” released earlier this month, has the band moving towards bare-boned electronic post-punk territory, gravitating more towards Curve and My Bloody Valentine than Cocteau Twins on tracks like “Trails” and “Trance Out.” Yuki Chikudate’s soaring vocals still manage to surface above that expected cacophony of drone-noise, feedback and distortion, whether taking a distinctively retro sixties approach on “My Baby” or echoing as sonic texture on the epic “Leave the Drummer Out There.” Also wearing their influences on their cover sleeve, “Flourescence” showcases the distinctive style of classic 4AD Records to boot, with artist Vaughan Oliver supplying the look. And there, somewhere between the future and the past, eyes sometimes closed, keeping time with a finger on the keys and another shaking a maraca, Chikudate and Asobi Seksu don’t reinvent the wheel, but spin it well enough to trample over naysayers and trite, dead-genre revivalists. Hidden melodies, and surfacing beauty, textures upon sonic texture… if you like it, love it, you’re already there, and if you don’t, you already know. It’s why you never could get into the Jesus and Mary Chain or thought the first Raveonettes record sounded weird. But for the rest of us, we’ll see you there! (Duke Shin)
February 28 at The Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600, 9:30pm. $12.
Chicago Artists, Disco, DJ, Electronic/Dance, Hip-Hop, House, IDM, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, Industrial, Post-punk, Post-Rock, Punk, Rock, Shoegaze, Space Pop
The Art Institute of Chicago’s sleek, pristine Modern Wing is hosting the current Sound & Vision exhibit, which aims to explore “the symbiotic relationship between art and music, presenting humorous yet rigorous investigations in which the two do not connect in any synesthetic sense but rather come together via acts of transposition…” To this effect, the Art Institute, in conjunction with Metro/Smart Bar, present Gard(en)Counter, featuring Metro/Smart Bar in-house DJs Nate Manic, Bald E. and Kid Color, who’ll provide the gift of sound spanning 1982 to present day. As for the vision, we’re sure the multimedia exhibits and installations will fit perfectly like “blue, blue, electric blue.” (Duke Shin)
July 30, Pritzker Garden/Griffin Court at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan, (877)307-4242, 9pm-midnight, $8/$10.
The xx released their self-titled debut album back in June of last year and, suddenly, the precocious young trio of former southwest London school mates are becoming the next big crossover hit, with their sparsely arranged tracks moving beyond Pitchfork acclaim and end-of-year-list love to popping up on hit TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Cold Case” and “Lie To Me,” and even accompanying spinach-chinned skating hero Apolo Anton Ohno in a high-profile Winter Olympic spot for AT&T. Their formula is simple: sterile guitar melodies, swaggering post-punk bass, astonishingly effective machine beats from in-house producer and drum-pad maetro Jamie Smith and, of course, the cooing of guitarist Romy Madley Croft and mumble-harmonizing bassist Oliver Sims. Sure, it might not sound like much, but the xx are masters of minimalistic efficiency, proving that it’s not what noise you make, but the spaces in between that resonate most deeply. And tonight’s show might be your last chance to catch the xx in an intimate setting like the similarly clean and black-clad Lincoln Hall. Like their biggest hit “Chrystallized,” the xx are ready to be dropped into the supersaturated solution of big-time gigs, as the band is set to return later this month to open up for Hot Chip at the cavernous Riviera, before taking their intimate sound to festival-land at Bonnaroo, Coachella and, most likely, Lollapalooza as well. (Duke Shin)
The xx play Lincoln Hall, 2424 North Lincoln, (773)525-2501, on April 8 at 9:30pm. $18. This show is sold out.
Photo: Tessa Angus
Whether it’s the flat, droning psyche-pop of its breakout hit “Love Burns,” or the rollicking ferocity of “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll (Punk Song),” Black Rebel Motorcycle Club mines the musical depths of its influences to produce…well, whatever the hell it feels like. New school folk, yesteryear hearkening psychedelia, bluesy garage rock—all dipped in a fresh coat of shoegazed black, the band has released records that delight and frustrate fans with their widening swings, from the stripped-down approach of “Howl” (2005) to the poppier sounding “Baby 81″ (2007) and the mostly ignored self-released instrumental experimentalism of “The Effects of 333″ (2008). A lot of attention has been paid to the effects of the band’s uncompromising approach, as their initial major-label home Virgin was unwilling to grow with the band, and next home RCA only releasing “Baby 81.” BRMC drops in tonight behind the recently released “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo,” their first album on their own Abstract Dragon imprint, and with a new drummer in tow: the Ravonettes’ Leah Shapiro. The album kicks off with a shamanistic feel, with Peter Hayes leading an “ah na na na” chant on the album’s self-titled lead-of track “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo.” But don’t worry about missing the trademarked dark skies that lace all of their work, as he sings “you have forsaken all the love you’ve taken, sleeping on a razor there’s nowhere left to fall.” Sounds like a perfect date for lovers of distortion and black leather. (Duke Shin)
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club plays Metro, 3730 North Clark, (773)549-0203, March 25.
There’s something about London duo The Big Pink that is a little lame. The elementary lyrics, the traditional chord progressions or melodies, the big-room choruses—something here is not quite right for a band with such a pristine electro shoegaze surface sound. The band garnered huge buzz before its debut record was released last September on the strength of some early singles, which was deserved, as the first material introduced to the public was especially convincing. “A Brief History of Love,” The Big Pink’s debut proper, has a lot of attractive pieces that don’t exactly come together. A song like “Velvet” works casually, as it can simply ride its own wave of ethereal beauty. But “Dominos,” another single, is painfully silly, and detracts from the record considerably. Of course, you can’t really blame a band just getting started for not making a perfect record. It’s a fine first attempt, one that shows promise for strong moves in the future. A Place to Bury Strangers plays tonight as well, which makes this bill a full-on shoegaze party, with the band’s intensely loud and hazy distortion sure to deafen those unexpecting. Chicago’s industrial dance crew Gatekeeper opens, which should get this crowd to loosen up a bit. Maybe not even stare at their shoes the whole time. Maybe. (Tom Lynch)
March 20 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, (773)549-0203, at 9pm. $16.
There was a time when Mew was just brimming under the surface here in the States. The Danish band had an admirable following in its home country—few knew of the ensemble’s lushly bloated strength over here, but those who did, and those who were lucky enough to see the band live, had tales to tell. In 2005 Mew broke through with its follow-up to “Frengers,” a record called “And the Glass Handed Kites,” and on the back of single “The Zookeeper’s Boy” achieved acclaim and modest popularity in America. At this time, with the gorgeous power of “Frengers” and the step forward in ambition and size of sound that was “Kites,” it seemed Mew was on the track to become one of the strongest bands on Earth, capable of combining glammy prog-rock with starry orchestral arrangements and thrilling, goosebump-inducing crescendos. And then time passed. And more time. Reality set in. Mew was just a band, and ultimately “Kites” was a little boring, lacking the staying power of the excellent “Frengers.” Released in August, the group’s new record, preposterously titled “No More Stories / Are Told Today / I’m Sorry / They Washed Away // No More Stories / The World Is Grey / I’m Tired / Let’s Wash Away,” sees the band moving towards pop a bit more, but prog tendencies are difficult to shake, and Mew always has enough to spare. Big, bold, at times beautiful and at others tragically unlistenable, Mew’s propensity for life on the big screen gets older by the minute. What comes next is what really counts. (Tom Lynch)
December 7 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, (773)549-0203, at 7:30pm. $19.
For all the press and accolades, School of Seven Bells is probably looking forward to escaping the comparisons that have dogged it since its debut 2008 album “Alpinisms” (Ghostly International). Dream pop, indie-tronic, neo-shoegaze…whatever you want to call it, one thing is certain: the trio makes beautiful noise. Aided by stellar pedigrees (harmonizing twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, formerly of On! Air! Library!, join former Secret Machines guitarist Benjamin Curtis), the band effortlessly blends live and electronic elements to create a shimmering, feedback-laced groove. And there’s definitely something bordering on telepathic twinner intuition at work when the sisters are on the mic. If you love the way a melody can sometimes rise above a cacophony of discreetly used feedback, this show is not to be missed. Since they’ve been a frequent visitor to Chicago, we’re hoping they preview a few new tracks from the follow-up album they’ve been reportedly working on. (Duke Shin)
October 14 at Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, (773)276-3600, at 9pm. $12.
Mining the well-paved intersection of Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine and heady Krautrock might leave a band vulnerable to criticism. And after all, if your band is named for the Grateful Dead’s former moniker during the Ken Kesey acid-test era, then yeah, prepare for scrutiny. But the not-so-merry pranksters in The Warlocks have managed to use their muscular seven-piece sound to greatly vary the concentrations of their sonic makeup, from feedback noise freakouts to shoegazer dense tapestries and even straightforward psyche-pop rockouts—or at least, as straightforward as psychedelic music can be. Their latest effort, “The Mirror Explodes,” is heavy on the heavy, with moments of clarity occurring through the fuzz, empowered by Bobby Hecksher’s pleading voice as just another layer of sound. Also on the bill are fellow psychonauts The Morning After Girls, who take a more melodic approach supporting their latest Alan Moulder-kissed LP “Alone,” which dips closer to the pretty mess of Curve than previous tour-mates and Warlocks’ associates like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. And if you make it out early enough, maybe LA-based openers Gliss will salute you with their excellent take on Smashing Pumpkins’ “Rhinoceros.” (Duke Shin)
August 6 at Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, (773)276-3600, at 9pm. $10.
Local quartet Speck Mountain doesn’t shy away from open space. The recent “Some Sweet Relief” (Carrot Top), a psychedelic nighttime dream that seeps atmosphere from its first chord, opens with the patient, soulful “Shame on the Soul,” dominated by organ and Marie-Claire Balabanian’s unbelievable voice. Smooth, wise, devastating. “Angela,” a later track, recalls Yo La Tengo’s most inventive “I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One” period, with subtle tropicalia backed by heavily reverbed, nearly shoegazer vocals. Small elements of rootsy folk emerge as well. Make no mistake, “Some Sweet Relief” is a soundtrack for the late hours, when the bars have closed and you decide to have just one more drink before heading to bed. Balabanian’s voice will haunt your mind, and her backing band—Karl Briedrick, Kate Walsh, Tim Daisy—provide suitable, sharp accompaniment. Some songs, like the sprawling and huge “Backsliding,” sound almost spiritual, as if they’re actually played from the top of a mountain. If this is your sort of thing, you’ll love it. (Tom Lynch)
Speck Mountain plays August 5 at Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, (773)276-3600, at 9:30pm. $8.